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Wellington’s many, many Mojos (Image: Archi Banal)
Wellington’s many, many Mojos (Image: Archi Banal)

WellingtonJanuary 9, 2024

I went to every Mojo cafe in Wellington in a single day

Wellington’s many, many Mojos (Image: Archi Banal)
Wellington’s many, many Mojos (Image: Archi Banal)

Summer reissue: With one in seemingly every office building in Wellington, this cafe chain fuels the capital’s young professionals with coffee and pastries generally considered to be ‘fine’. Seeking to reconnect with her city, Emma Maguire visits all 16 Mojos.

First published on July 10, 2023. A version of this article was first published on Maguire’s Medium.

I’ve spent more time out of Wellington of late than I anticipated. The last six weeks have been a write-off and I feel rather disconnected from my home. Thus, I decided to embrace the Wellington zeitgeist by going to every single Mojo Cafe in the capital in one day in the desperate hope of finding a god within the coffee beans.

Mojo was started in Wellington in 2003 and has since expanded to Auckland. It’s 20 years old this year. Locals describe the Mojo brand as “fine” and “it’s coffee” but every day this series of cafes fuels the zesty yo-pros that litter the streets of Thorndon and Te Aro, as well as anyone visiting both Wellington hospitals and the airport.

Why are there so many? Why are there 16 of them within a 10km radius? Will I become a person who drinks coffee by the end of this?

Only time will tell.

Sidebar – I’m not being paid by Mojo for this article. This is my money I am spending on pastries and hot drinks and spiking my blood sugar. I just like my little quests. If you’re thinking, “why would someone do this?”, the only answer I can give you is that there is something quite wrong with me.

I, depressingly, live within the Mojo Exclusion Zone (Te Aro), so if I am in need of tasty treats I unfortunately have to go to one of the other 50 cafes within five minutes’ walk.

However, not today. I set off from my house on an e-scooter for my first destination – Mojo Summit – at the junction of Molesworth and Murphy Streets, right at the top of the central city.

It’s 9am. Wellington’s doing its best with the weather, and the city is bathed in golden morning light, though it is also cold as fuck out. I run into several groups of pedestrians making their way through the city on the way to work, and get stuck behind some roadworks on the corner of Featherston and Whitmore Street. They’re building a new office building there. There’ll probably be a Mojo in it.

9.07am

Mojo Summit is utilitarian, with glass on two of three sides. It’s full of people presumably from the Ministry of Health across the road. I get an apple scone, heated and with butter for breakfast. I am sweaty and anxious (my body doesn’t like mornings) and the sunrise hits me straight in the face for the entire time in the cafe. The scone is fine. Being outside is better.

9.25am

My next destination is Mojo Vogel, at least until I discover you need a swipe card for the Justice Building to get into it. As this is a blog post and not a plea to be arrested for trespassing, I decide not to pry any further.

(It turns out Mojo Vogel is accessible to the public from Kate Sheppard Place. I will be returning at a later date – maybe.)

9.47am

My third stop is a mere wander down the road from parliament – Mojo Bowen Campus. As I walk from Kate Sheppard Place I’m already beginning to feel the futility of this experiment. Will I really drink 14+ oat milk hot chocolates today? Hope not. Why I am I doing this? Ennui?

Mojo Bowen Campus is spacious, with plenty of different types of seating. They’ve also got a wide range of food and drink. Made deeply anxious by all the people with jobs that require suit-wearing, I get my oat milk hot chocolate and sit outside to borrow a local Other Cafe’s wifi and try and get some work done. All my anxiety is being held in my neck and I try to shake some of it out as I write.

The hot chocolate is fine. The wifi connection is not. I shed my blazer and hop across the road to Mojo #4.

10.20am

Mojo Tahi (1 The Terrace) is packed, with zero seats free. The Wishbone within the same building has plenty of seats available. I wish I was in there.

I ask my Twitter followers if public servants get a Mojo discount or something. One of them writes: its engrained in us that Mojo is the default as if it’s a reflex and another adds: because Wishbone sucks. A third wonders: my real question is why they (we) go to mojo when la cloche is right across the road.

I think fondly of a baguette I had at La Cloche maybe six years ago as a seat opens up and I sip at my lemon and ginger rooibos tea. This place is too loud. My tea is fine. Being out on the Terrace again is much more inviting.

The writer about to hit up The Beanery, an elite coffee-tasting emporium that Mojo runs

10.50am

Ducking down into Lambton Eatery, I look across to the place that sells the ramen that I basically lived off when I worked on the Terrace in 2018. It would be a great time to get some, but unfortunately I’ve decided to do this stupid quest, so within my own self-imposed ruleset I’m not allowed to eat anything from any other shop.

The people working in The Beanery (an elite coffee-tasting emporium that Mojo runs) seem very competent and in control of their actions. I wish I had a sliver of their faith.

11.15am

The deeply likeable staff at Mojo Aurora (in the ground floor of the Aurora Building) pull me from my funk and I drink more tea in the very back of the cafe, where it’s sort of quiet and actually quite comfortable. It’d be a good place to write, if the Mojo brand believed in three-pin plugs and wifi.

11.32am

My final stop on the Terrace is Mojo Terrace, on the ground floor of the former PwC building. The sun is bright, there’s a balcony that overlooks Lambton Quay in a way that’s very endearing, and for a moment it’s like I can take a pause and have a breath.

It’s been a long month. My father’s been in hospital in Waikato, I’ve been very sick, one of my workplaces has been embroiled in drama far beyond my 40-hour-a-week scope, and in general… it’s been deeply stressful.

Do I feel great about this quest? Not really, I’m already pretty over the mere concept of cafe food – but at least, right now, I’ve got a destination. I’ve got a purpose. My time is my own. In a month that’s robbed me of those things over and over and over incessantly, I welcome the feeling of knowing where I’m going.

My lemon and rooibos tea is fine. The view makes up for it.

A view across Lambton Quay from the Mojo Terrace. The sky is blue, the sun is warm (Photo: Emma Maguire)

11.48am

Escaping the Terrace, a ride on a Flamingo scooter takes me down to Mojo #8 – Mojo Waterfront. Directly opposite Mojo’s HQ in Shed 13, the sunlight is just as nice down here, and I sit and watch professionals in unbuttoned suit jackets queue up for burritos and tacos across the courtyard.

It’s wild, what you notice when you’re not even looking for it. I’ve lived in Wellington for nearly nine years now, and I’ve totally ignored this Mojo in the past, never noticed half the restaurants and businesses along this side of the Quay. In hindsight, maybe I should slow down a little.

I will absolutely not take my own advice.

The vibe is great. The hot chocolate is better than the last one. This, I might come back to.

12.19pm

Suddenly realising “oh shit, I’ve got less than three hours to get to five more city Mojos and also get out to Wakefield Hospital before it closes at 3pm”, I pick up the pace. A message from a friend, however, stops me in my tracks. I’ve not seen her for over a month and we decide to get a very fleeting lunch from Mojo Market Lane, which is expansive, bright and pressure-free.

I get a salami, mushroom and brie toasted sandwich which is BY FAR the best thing I’ve eaten all day. She gets an omelette. The conversation warms the space and warms my heart. She’s a sweetheart. Maybe the Mojoquest wasn’t a terrible idea after all (my bank balance, when I look at it later, will disagree).

A pretty great sandwich (Photo: Emma Maguire)

1pm

A scooter ride back to Lambton Quay and then a brisk walk takes me past Mojos #10 to #13 in quick succession.

Mojo Old Bank is tiny, set right into the corner of the Old Bank Building, with seating on the brick footpath outside. Once again, I’m surprised I’ve never noticed it before.

I run in and out of Mojo State so fast that I barely take anything in, but the guy behind the counter is very nice and doesn’t take umbrage to me stumbling over my words as I buy a??? sweet thing??? – I think it was some kind of cookie, it might still be in my fridge, I don’t know.

Mojo Central is within the recesses of the Spark Building, where I’ve never actually been before. It’s industrial and wide, with high ceilings and loads of space. This one, too, I think I’ll come back to – the range is good, the architecture fucks, and there’s also a shop that sells American candy right next door, which I think could come in very handy.

A Mojo that is not on any of their websites maps is Mojo Express – a tiny, tiny cafe set into a rectangle room right across from the Willis Street bus stop. It’s so small, but deeply popular – I’ve spent enough time on Willis Street to know that. Deciding to memorialise my journey with more frenetic spending, I spend eight human dollars on a Mojo alkaline water bottle. Hopefully this will improve my health in ways I’ve never even dreamed of.

The Mojo Express on Willis St, from across the road (Photo: Emma Maguire)

2.04pm

Dodging past my home in the Mojo Exclusion Zone to drop off a bunch of sweet snacks I really don’t have the desire to consume right now, I then try to find Wakefield Hospital by memory, while on a scooter, as well as while on a headset on the phone to my mum.

She’s fine, the weather back home isn’t, and my dad is chugging along. No change there then.

Realising quite quickly that Wakefield Hospital is not Southern Cross Hospital, a place I’m slightly more familiar with, Google saves my ass, and I find myself pulling into the carpark an hour before closing time. The hospital is genuinely deeply nice, but far above my price point, so I quickly grab their last caramel slice and head on my way, leaving the shining lights and esteemed professionals to their coffees.

2.15pm

My penultimate stop for the day is at Wellington Regional Hospital. The huge cafe I thought was a Mojo on the ground floor turns out to be, in fact, my temporary nemesis Wishbone, and I find myself lost until a security guard takes pity on my careless wanderings and points me in the right direction.

Mojo Wellington Hospital is nought more than a small kiosk, but they do have the first sparkling water I’ve seen all day (sue me, I like the bubbles), so I get one.

A wander down a corridor on my way out sends my heart to my stomach – the last time I was at Wellington Regional Hospital I spent a lot of time in this exact part, where they put my ankle back together after I broke it badly. Even after two years, it’s not the same, and that weekend in February 2021 affected my life and my pain levels forever.

Those memories combined with the very real pressure of the health of my father, still in hospital over 500km away, sends a shiver down my back, and I step out into Mein Street, much more maudlin than I intended to be on a gorgeous Thursday afternoon.

Maybe I’ve just had a little too much sun and not enough vegetables today, but it’s all beginning to feel a little cyclical. A quest decided on a whim has led me to wanderings through a city I don’t know as well as I thought, and to interrogating my past mistakes.

I shake it off. There’s scootering to be done.

2.54pm

It truly is a gorgeous day. The breeze blows past me as I scooter through Newtown, up across Mt Vic and down to Kilbirnie on the other side. The office feels very far away when I’m on the Lyall Bay Cycleway, smelling the salt off the waves, bathed in the mid-afternoon light.

After pushing through the runway tunnel and dropping my scooter at the parks outside the airport, I head on inside for Mojo #16 – Wellington Airport. The final one of the day, and the end of my quest.

It feels like maybe I should buy a beer, but after six months of broken ankle-forced sobriety my alcohol tolerance is not what it was and I want to scooter back home, so I hold off, and get the blood orange juice that’s been staring at me for about six Mojos now, before taking a seat directly opposite the international gates.

I’ve done it. I’ve completed my quest.

I feel… very little about it.

…It should be more of a victory?

Hurrah! I spent six hours and nearly 100 bucks traversing a city I thought I knew, completing a quest that no one else cares about. I don’t even know if I should be celebrating.

It takes some time.

Late afternoon sun and blue sky behind an Air New Zealand airplane on the runway at Wellington Airport (Photo: Emma Maguire)

As I sit in the airport mulling all it over, staring out into the distance and watching the planes take off under the burn of the setting sun, I do, after a while, feel something in my chest unknot.

For the first time in six weeks I’ve made it. I’m in the right place at the right time – for once. I feel almost settled in the city, back in my home, with more knowledge of it than I had when I left, more aware of its intricacies, more aware of myself.

Though there are no gods in the Mojasma – I might have found a sense of self-assurance.

In the end, what more can you ask for?

Keep going!